On the Map: Traveling by Trolley Back to the Dinosaurs

A cheerful yellow sign announces “Trolley Rides Today.” Credit: Paul Swansen, Flickr
A cheerful yellow sign announces “Trolley Rides Today.” Image by Paul Swansen, Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

 

By Samantha Hinton

From the Fossil Trace Golf Course to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Denver is a modern city where the age of the dinosaurs is still present.  

One of the best ways to experience Denver’s dinosaurs is the Denver Trolley route (formerly called the Platte Valley Trolley route) to Lakewood Gulch, home to the site of the first Triceratops fossil ever found. 

 

Map showing the Denver Trolley route starting at Confluence Park in downtown Denver and hugging the Platte River Greenway. Credit: Denver Trolley
The Denver Trolley starts at Confluence Park in downtown Denver and hugs the Platte River Greenway. Credit: Denver Trolley

 

In 1887, American paleontologist, John Bell Hatcher discovered the mostly intact triceratops skull and horns and sent it to colleague, Othniel Charles Marsh. Marsh mistakenly thought the bones were from a bison, and they were not confirmed to be from a triceratops until the following year when another set of remarkably similar fossils was discovered in the area.   

The trolley trip to Lakewood Gulch combines history and paleontology with transportation geography. The current Denver Trolley system recalls the city’s once-extensive electric rail transit system. At its peak in the early 20th century, the trolley system had over 250 miles of track connecting the city and another 40 miles connected Denver to Golden and Boulder. In 1910, the system had 87,819,000 passengers.  

 

Map showing the Denver streetcar routes in 1917. Credit: Denver Urbanism
Denver streetcar routes in 1917. Credit: Denver Urbanism

 

Also in 1910, there were only 3,000 automobiles in Denver. After World War II, the American economy highly encouraged modernizing everyday life. By 1928, there were 78,000 privately owned automobiles and trolley ridership declined by 59%. By 1951, all the city’s trolley lines were abandoned and replaced by a new urban bus system.  

The Denver Trolley, a small section of that rail system, was later restored and reopened on July 4th, 1989, to revive some of the history and nostalgia along a route of some of Denver’s most popular attractions. The trolley runs Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from early spring to around Oct. 31. Tickets are $3 for adults and $2 for children. Other stops along the route include Confluence Park, REI’s flagship store, Elitch Gardens, and The Children Museum of Denver.   

Sources: Denver Trolley Colorado, Denver The Mile High City; “Dinosaurs in Denver,” Fossils Facts and Finds; “Triceratops Facts You Need to Know,” Denver Urbanism; “The History of Denver’s Streetcars and Their Routes”  

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0129

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On the Map: Denver’s Five Points and Whittier neighborhoods

Image of Robinson Atlas of the City of Denver (Plate 12). Source: Denver Public Library, Special Collections
Image of Robinson Atlas of the City of Denver (Plate 12). Source: Denver Public Library, Special Collections

By Sam Hinton with Lisa Schamess

Northeast of downtown Denver, the Five Points and Whittier neighborhoods are among the city’s oldest, the first to extend beyond Denver’s original Congressional Grant. As a longstanding center for African American life in Denver, as well as a hub for the Chicano Movement, these neighborhoods are a vital location in the city.  

Five Points starts at 17th and Downing on the east edge and extends north along Downing to 38th Street. The Whittier neighborhood is less extensive, starting at 23rd and Downing Street and extending north until East Martin King, Jr. Boulevard. Established in the 1870s, Five Points was named after Denver’s diagonal downtown grid with a rectangular suburban grid, which meet at Washington Street, 27th Street, 26th Avenue, and Welton Street. Whittier Elementary School was named in honor of John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), an American poet and abolitionist. 

The neighborhoods were and still are today dynamic and multi-cultural places. Many Latinx-Americans and Asian Americans work and reside in the area. While it was always historically a home to African Americans, increasing segregation in the 1920s resulted in more than 90% of Denver’s African American residents living in Five Points or Whittier during the mid-20th century.  

Throughout the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, the area was also a significant cultural and entertainment destination. The area is home to Denver’s first urban park, Colorado’s oldest Black church, and Temple Emanuel, one of the state’s oldest synagogues. Jazz also runs strongly through Five Points and Whittier’s narrative. Sometimes called the “Harlem of the West,” the area was a popular stop for jazz stars like Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis. They played clubs like the Rossonian and the Rainbow Room, and Benny Hooper’s hotel. Today, the annual Five Points Jazz Festival and Juneteenth Music Festival are renowned.  

The neighborhoods have a rich entrepreneurial history. For example, the Niederhut Carriage Company was a family-run business by brothers Henry and William Niederhut for a century, and one of the largest transportation manufacturing companies in Denver.  

In 1920, Dr. Clarence Holmes founded a dental practice at 2602 Welton Street and was the first African American to join the Denver Dental Society. A graduate of Howard University in Washington, DC, he otherwise lived his entire life in Denver. He was born to a family that valued civic responsibility: his mother Mary Holmes was the first African American woman to run for the state legislature. Dr. Holmes helped found the Colorado-Wyoming branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His early years as the first Black dentist in Denver were “rough,” he said in 1973, with obstacles put in his path by segregation, individual racism and intimidation, and white supremacist forces in professional societies and businesses serving dentists. Hear Dr. Holmes offer his oral history to the Denver Public Library in 1973 (Content Warning: frank use of racist terminology). 

Reverend David West Mallard owned multiple businesses including Mallard’s Grocery and Confectionery. Other notable businesses included Rice’s Tap Room and Oven, The Rhythm Records and Sporting Goods Shop, the American Woodmen’s Insurance Company, and Melvina’s Beauty Shop. 

 

Photo of Niederhut Carriage Company circa 1900; credit Denver Public Library Special Collections
Niederhut Carriage Company circa 1900. Credit: Denver Public Library Special Collections

 

Photo of David and Virginia Mallard in front of their store, circa 1948, with an unidentified man. Credit: Denver Public Library Special Collections
David and Virginia Mallard in front of their store, circa 1948, with an unidentified man. Credit: Denver Public Library Special Collections

 

Today, many descendants of the original Black residents no longer live in Five Points. Efforts to bring new life to the community have included a new urban rail line and the renovation of the Rossonian Hotel. These changes, however, have also accelerated gentrification, Nonetheless, the Five Points and Whittier remain an important touchpoint for Black and Latinx communities. The neighborhoods host many artists and are the center of several lively mural projects depicting their history and culture, such as La Serpienta Dorada and the Five Points Mural Gallery.  

 

Photo of Artist Brian Doss at the annual Jazz Festival in Five Points. Credit: Kent Kanuse, Flickr.
Artist Brian Doss at the annual Jazz Festival in Five Points. Credit: Kent Kanuse, Flickr.

 

Learn more: 

The neighborhood Business Improvement District hosts a self-guided, self-paced walking tour of Five Points. Five Points Plus is a museum and online exhibit that showcases the human stories and collective memory of living, working, and growing up in Five Points. Developed in partnership with the Black American West Museum and Heritage Center along with Five Points community members and supported by the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library (Denver Public Library) and Manual Highschool. Prepare for your visit by finding out about the Black-owned and other businesses in the area. 

This article was prepared using sources from Denver.org and the Denver Public Library 

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0126

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Ashok Dutt

Dr. Ashok K. Dutt, Professor Emeritus at the University of Akron, Ohio and a long time AAG member passed away on November 4, 2022. He was 91 years old.

He studied geography at the master and doctoral levels at Patna University (India, 1955, 1961). Subsequently, he was a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Institute of Social Studies at Hague (Netherlands, 1964)  and studied physical planning under the supervision of  Professor J.P. Thijsee. He then emigrated to the United States and began his academic career at St. Anselm’s College (New Hampshire, 1966-68), Asian Institute, East Carolina University (Summer, 1967) and spent the remainder of his career teaching and conducting research at the Department of Geography and Urban Studies, University of Akron (1968-2004).

He had a distinguished career in teaching and research in the areas of urban, social, medical, and development planning with regional interests in Europe, Asia and US. He published over a dozen co-edited books and more than 200 research papers, book chapters, and encyclopedic entries. A notable contribution of his research was the conceptualization of the models of urban city forms called the Colonial-based South Asian City and Bazaar-based South Asian City. His most recent co-edited book is titled Urban and Regional Planning and Development: 20th Century Forms and 21st Century Transformations (Springer, 2020). He was a Fulbright scholar in India (1988-89) and was recognized as the recipient of distinguished scholar award by the Asian Geography and Regional Development Planning Specialty groups at the Association of American Geographers (1991 and 1992).

He is survived by his wife Professor Emeritus Hiran Dutta, daughters Jhumku Kohtz and Rinku Dutt and grandchildren.

By Sudhir Thakur, Professor, California State University Sacramento

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On the Map: The Spot Where Modern Denver Began

Confluence Park rapids and beach with a backdrop of the Denver Skyline by Kent Kanouse, Creative Commons
Confluence Park rapids and beach with a backdrop of the Denver Skyline by Kent Kanouse, Creative Commons

The confluence of two rivers in downtown Denver — Niinéniiniicíihéhe (the South Platte River) and Cherry Creek — marks the 1858 gold strike that launched a major city.

This spot also marks the prospectors’ encounter with the Arapaho, whose winter camping grounds and sovereign land this was, as affirmed in the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie. In addition to white settlers, Cherokee Nation citizens made up a significant number of the early prospectors, pushed off their own land after the 1828 Georgia Gold Rush and subsequent Trail of Tears.

At the site of Confluence Park, it was William Greenberry “Green” Russell who led the group that began a search for gold there in May 1858. When they found indications four miles south, their temporary settlement became what is now known as Denver.

In the intervening century, the 10.5-mile stretch of the South Platte River where Confluence Park rests fell on hard times, like many urban rivers. By the 1970s, it was a polluted, not only neglected but a frequent dumping site, “Denver’s receptacle for anything they wanted out of sight, out of mind.” according to Colorado State Senator Joe Shoemaker, who led the campaign to restore the riverfront. In 1974, Shoemaker co-founded the Platte River Development Committee with then-Denver Mayor Bill McNichols, eventually transforming it into the Greenway Foundation. The park underwent a long renovation and reopened with more amenities in 2018.

Confluence Park rapids and beach by Kent Kanouse, Creative Commons by Wally Gobetz, Creative Commons
Confluence Park rapids and beach by Wally Gobetz, Creative Commons

Today’s Confluence Park is a public gathering place that offers recreation, paved paths and nature trails, river views and natural landscapes; tubing, and a kayak run. Fishing is permitted, as are wading and shallow swimming at a small beach. Shopping and dining are close by.

 


Find out more about the Cherokee Nation’s participation in the Colorado Gold Rush

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0118


Sources: Colorado Encyclopedia; “Confluence Park,The Cultural Landscape Foundation; RIVER TOWNS: Denver | The South Platte’s dirty past promises a pristine future,” September 18, 2021 Colorado Politics; OsiyoTV; Uncover Colorado; “The Birth of Denver, from Boom to Bust to Boom,” Indian Country Today, Oct. 29, 2013. 

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Akin Mabogunje

By Toyin Falola

As I heard of the passing of Professor Akin Mabogunje yesterday, August 4, incidentally in Lagos close to the house where he spent the last phase of his life, I began to reflect on the odyssey of life and how one needs a compass to successfully navigate the crescendos and decrescendos. What makes life itself is not just the source of respiration in humans’ biological make-up but the hurdles and smoothness that ironically constitute the essence and the extent of life itself. One might need directions to find a pathway to purpose, so as not to fall or get lost in the labyrinth of life, and sometimes the needed guide are people who have walked the land and stretched its excesses. Professor Akin Mabogunje’s life and career have proven to be the needed trajectory to safely surf the turbulent sea of life. He has become a compass, both figuratively and literally, by living a life worthy of emulation and leading a career that helps understand the complexity of earth itself.

Death is not a period that ends the great sentence of life, but a comma that punctuates it to more lofty significance. Death is not a blind alley that leads the human race into a state of nothingness, but an open door which leads man into life eternal.” ­

—Martin Luther King Jr.

In his autobiography, A Measure of Grace, Professor Mabogunje meticulously maps out his life and career in two parts: “On the Wings of Love” and “Towards the Emerging Vision,” each detailing his journey through life and a career. If Professor Mabogunje could look back, I am certain that he would proudly declare “c’est fini” to his vision, which had manifested with enviable expression. When a man can cease to exist, his image and contributions to society are bound to be legendary, and as such, it is safe to say that his very visions have “emerged” and have redefined the trajectory of scholarship and governmental policies alike. Mabogunje sat at the forefront of the echelon of African geographers, and his brilliance and scholarship drew global applause.

Mabogunje’s journey through life was defined by his quest for knowledge and resolution for success. As a young and brilliant child in Kano, with a father working for the colonial government, he was inquisitive, a character that set him apart from his counterparts. He started school when he was four years old and was younger than many of his classmates, which was a disadvantage because the teacher did not make an exception for him by coming down to his level of understanding. However, Mabogunje quickly adjusted and blended with the other students. His desire for success was once met with a hilarious experience. His father had instructed that he and his colleagues should prepare for higher examinations, and they had to do this by studying. However, Mabogunje’s friend had taken him to get voodoo that would make him pass the exams. Unfortunately, he failed and was taught by life itself that there was no shortcut to success. Following that, his lifestyle and achievements showed that he had taken these lessons from life and converted them into a muse that built his determination for success.

Professor Mabogunje attended the Holy Trinity Church School, Sabon Gari, Kano, before moving to the Anglican Church-run United Native African Church School. His father had participated in the facilitation of an Anglican School, which led to the establishment of the United Native African Church School. Upon the establishment of the school, Mabogunje and his siblings were transferred to become part of the foundational students at the school. In Class IV, he emerged as the best student in Geography, laying the foundation for his successful career as a Geographer. His sterling records continued to develop, especially as a student at the University College, Ibadan, where he won several prizes both within and outside Nigeria. He earned his Master’s degree in 1958 and his Ph.D in 1961, both from the University of London.

Professor Mabogunje did more than merely study or teach geography, he also carved a niche for himself, becoming an epitome of excellence in the field and contributing to the nation’s development. His teaching career and ascension to professorship within twelve years set the pace for his remarkable contribution to the geographical body of knowledge. He quickly reached the apex of intellectual stardom in the field, to the extent that he was nicknamed “the Father of African Geography,” a big credit to his many years of aggressively studying and analysing the geographical explanation of societies and the people resident in them.

Some of his early scholarship focused on the effect and process of Nigeria’s urbanisation, concerning the precolonial, colonial, and post-colonial epochs. While most scholars in 1965 found it easy to align with European opinions that urbanisation had a positive and developmental impact on the economy and other social sectors of society, Mabogunje introduced further ideas and examined Nigerian society beyond this context. He equipped himself with the people’s distinct economic, commercial, and social orientations before colonialism, some of which were still evident during the colonial period. Despite acknowledging the positive developments in other sectors, he emphasised the effect of urbanisation on these economic systems that might cause serious constraints for the country. He explained the philosophies and constitutions of the concept of cities in precolonial Nigeria, which were quite different from European systems.

Regarding the impact of the colonial economy and urbanisation in Nigeria, Mabogunje was particular about the interplay between pre-industrial and industrial urbanisation in Nigeria, and he provided a framework for the construction of data and public policies. His understanding and knowledge, especially on the urbanisation process, were put to specific and broader use, giving particular geographical analyses of Ibadan and Kano and becoming materials for laying the foundation of African urbanisation.

Also, Mabogunje was the epitome of the relationship between the town and gown. His scholarship extended beyond academic endeavours and research and included public assignments aimed at societal development. This was not surprising, as the icon was among the best brains in Nigeria in the fields of geography and urbanisation. His first contribution to society and policy was his participation in the 1962 census, which was considered long overdue after the failures of previously planned ones. Towards the census, he also led the section in charge of listing demarcation areas and was material to the 1963 census, following political factors and tensions in the country.

Additionally, the brilliant geographer played a significant role in the creation and generation of hydroelectric power in Kainji, Niger State, and was part of the discussions on how to relocate the people originally situated in this environment. He participated in research into the region’s situations before, during, and after the dam’s construction, as well as the socioeconomic implications on the people and Nigeria in general. Mabogunje’s contributions to the establishment of Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye (known as Ogun State University at inception) cannot be forgotten. He contributed his wealth of knowledge and wisdom to the Public Service Review Commission and the Western Region Forestry Commission. His role in the development of the Federal Capital Territory, including other national duties he performed diligently, are some of his remarkable contributions that are instrumental to the fabric of contemporary society.

Mabogunje was not just a national hero; his international reputation helped him to make Nigeria and Africa proud in the international community. As the first African to head the International Geographical Union and United States National Academy of Sciences Foreign Associate, he became a trailblazer in positioning Africans for more international developmental roles and performed his duty with such emulative vigour and determination. Given his accomplishments, it is not surprising that he has won several awards and honours, both on a national and international levels, including the 2017 Vautrin Lud Prize for Geography, the highest award in the field of Geography.

As many have stated, Mabogunje’s movement from different locations and staying among different people must have contributed to his versatility and was instrumental in the foundation of his geographical knowledge that showed him to the world. Aside from his career, he led an exemplary life that touched individuals and served as an inspiration for those who would love to understand life. Indeed, he was a compass for understanding both society and life itself. Mabogunje had a vision for development, which was clear enough for others to build on, thus laying the foundation of Nigerian geographical studies and African urban development.

Although Mabogunje has left us, his legacy will live on like that of every other hero. When he was alive, he asked me to write a book on education in the Western Region in the 1950s; however, I could not deliver. Now that he is gone, I will request him to do a map of heaven, locating the longitude and latitude of hell and Satan, angels, and the abode of God, especially the city of gold, where he has gone on to continue a glorious and well-lived life. I intend to put his findings to good use. This is one hero we are sure to miss, but his hallowed presence will always hold a place of honour in the closet of our hearts.


Toyin Falola, a professor of History, University Distinguished Teaching Professor, and Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at The University of Texas at Austin, is the Bobapitan of Ibadanland. Reprinted with permission from The Premium Times, Nigeria.

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Hsiao-Chien Shih

Education: PhD in Geography (San Diego State University, UC Santa Barbara), MS in Geographic Information Science (San Diego State University), BA in Geography (National Taiwan Normal University)

The following profile was compiled by Jessica Embury (San Diego State University) for the Encoding Geography initiative. To learn more, visit: https://www.ncrge.org/encoding-geography/


Please describe your job, employer, and the primary tasks you perform in your position. 

I am a data scientist at E Source, a utility consulting firm that helps clients in a data-science-as-a-service manner. Our main task is to reduce power outage risk. My job tasks include acquiring, exploring, extracting, and transforming geospatial (and sometimes time series) data, including remotely sensed imagery, elevation, land cover, and utility assets as inputs for data science and modeling. In addition, I compile and aggregate the output risk in a geographic data format.  

What is your educational background? How did you initially discover geocomputation and why did you ultimately choose a career that uses geography and computer science? 

I am a geographer and I have doctoral, master’s, and bachelor’s degrees in Geography. My initial discovery of geocomputation came from an introductory level GIS course during my undergraduate period. I kept taking other geospatial courses, including remote sensing and spatial statistics. I found my abilities in math and reasoning made geocomputation attractive. Besides, geographic information represents real-world big datasets that can be used to solve real-world problems. Thus, I aimed to work in this field for my career. 

When thinking about geography, what specific background knowledge and conceptual ideas are important and useful to know? 

I tend to emphasize the absolute and relative geographic locations of a phenomenon, and then I shift my attention to the associated spatial distribution and temporal dynamics. The spatial-temporal process always attracts me, and I am interested in the background mechanisms of the process. For example, the spatial-temporal processes of urbanization were my dissertation topic. 

When thinking about computer science, what specific background knowledge and conceptual ideas are important and useful to know? 

Programming skills are critical for handling large amounts of data iteratively. Machine learning and its associated applications are critical to the work I perform. With the understanding of various sources of data and their caveats, I compile data to create critical inputs for machine learning. Finally, cloud computing is critical for the current job market due to the nature of largevolume geospatial data.  

What procedural knowledge is important and useful to know, from either geography or computer science? 

Knowing how to handle (read/write) geospatial data is necessary. Understanding approaches to analyze raster, vector, or point cloud data significantly contributes to the current utility consulting industry. 

What is an example of a social, economic, environmental, or other issue that you have recently investigated in a project at work? 

My colleague and I regularly work to estimate and reduce power outage risks due to environmental effects. We monitor vegetation growth based on remotely sensed data around utility assets, and then provide feedback to our clients for prioritizing vegetation management. To accomplish this task, we need to know how to compile remotely sensed, elevation, and other sources of data for monitoring the environment. Thus, knowledge of remote sensing, image processing, geometry calculation, spatial analysis, and machine learning are necessary.  

What kind of questions did you ask and think about during this project? 

For the above task, we consider the spatial scale and resolution of multiple sources of data. It is important to know how to incorporate data across multiple scales and what each scale represents in terms of the data source. We often calculate the relative location between any two objects to understand the risk of power outage. Therefore, calculating geometry is necessary. In addition, we need to know how to compile these data programmatically and we need to know some graph theory to boost the computation speed. 

What types of data did you acquire to support your project? Please identify up to three datasets you utilize most. 

Multiple sources of data are often used in our projects, and most of the data are publicly accessible. First, utility data will be used to define the geographic coverage of territories, and samples will be generated from the proximity areas of the data. We also use multiple sources of remotely sensed data, including Sentinel-2 and NAIP, as well as elevation data, such as LiDAR and the national hydrology dataset. Recently, we started using commercial satellite imagery (e.g. Planetscope data). 

What types of content knowledge and skills did you use to evaluate, process, and analyze the data you gathered for your project? 

Several skills are critical. First, knowledge of remote sensing and associated image processing approaches are necessary. Specifically, image spectrum analysis and image preprocessing are helpful. Second, machine learning knowledge is another must-have skill for data preparation and data quality confirmation, including classification and clustering. Finally, cloud computing is a nice-to-have skill because we often handle humongous amounts of data (e.g. AWS Sagemaker and S3). 

How did you apply geography and computer science to communicate the results of your project?  Do you have a recent product or publication that you could share with us as an example? 

We usually use python and QGIS for data visualization, and we use python for data compilation. Specifically, we rely on open-source python libraries (e.g.gdal) to handle geospatial data and create big data tables. Machine learning classification and regression are applied to estimate outage risks. Then, we create web-based apps to visualize the risk of power outage for our clients. 

Here is the link to our publication: https://www.esource.com/001201rt0d/data-science-company-improves-vegetation-management 

Reflecting on your work, how does it align with your personal values and your community or civic interests?  

I often think about how my learning during my undergraduate and graduate studies can contribute to a better world, especially in urban areas. The knowledge of remote sensing, GIS, and geocomputation perfectly helps me achieve the goal of moving the world toward a decarbonizing future. I am glad that I can apply my knowledge in the utility industry.  


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grants No. 2031418, 2031407, and 2031380 (Collaborative Research: Encoding Geography – Scaling up an RPP to achieve inclusive geocomputational education). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation 

 

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Carmen Leedham

Education: B.A. in Geography (San Diego State University)

The following profile was compiled by Jessica Embury (San Diego State University) for the Encoding Geography initiative. To learn more, visit: https://www.ncrge.org/encoding-geography/


Please describe your job, employer, and the primary tasks you perform in your position. 

I work for the County of San Diego, Health and Human Services Agency in the Office of Business Intelligence. The office I work for is a support department that works with other offices within the Health and Human Services Agency, such as Aging and Independent Services and Public Health Services. The primary tasks I perform revolve around GIS. I create static maps, web maps, and perform geospatial analysis to answer questions posed by leadership and my coworkers. For example, I performed geospatial analysis to convert tabular data into spatial data to answer, “How many CalFresh recipients live in each district in the County of San Diego?”  

What is your educational background? How did you initially discover geocomputation and why did you ultimately choose a career that uses geography and computer science? 

The people I met during my education have been instrumental in the trajectory of my career and have been very important to me. I first came into contact with geocomputation after completing a cultural geography course at Grossmont College with Professor Mark Goodman. He told me what a career in geography might look like and he encouraged me to enroll in an “Intro to GIS” course. At first, I did not understand anything, but the professors were so helpful and they made time for their students. I never had any computer classes in high school or middle school so learning how to work with a computer was very new to me. 

About a year later, I applied for an internship with the County of San Diego, Health and Human Services Agency in GIS. From there, I started to learn important skills, like how to work in a professional office, how to email people, and how to communicate with people in a professional setting. I started to really like it and see a life for myself working in GIS for a local government.   

At the time, I was 18 or 19 and I was going through a lot – I had unstable housing and food insecurity. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it day-to-day or month-to-month. I saw GIS as a path to achieve the things I wanted: stable housing and a little bit of fun money. From that point forward, I started thinking about how to get a career in GIS as quickly as possible. In May 2019, I completed the GIS technician certificate of achievement at Mesa College – the requirement to get an entry level job in GIS with the County of San Diego. In September 2019, I got a full-time job with the County of San Diego in the Land Use and Environment Group. Since then, I’ve been with the County of San Diego, moving up and honing my skills in GIS.  

When thinking about geography, what specific background knowledge and conceptual ideas are important and useful to know? 

I feel like geography – both physical and cultural geography – cannot be separated from GIS or geocomputation. The foundation of geospatial analysis builds upon cultural and human relation to place and space throughout time. Likewise, GIS builds upon physical geography and knowledge of our surroundings.  

I mainly focus on cultural geography and the socioeconomic conditions of people within the Health and Human Services Agency of the County of San Diego. So, with geocomputation, we run the risk of turning people, plants, and places into numbers or into commodities and binaries. Through geography, we can return people from numbers and binaries back into real life things that have special life circumstances and value to one another.  

Conceptually, an understanding of sustainability should be gathered prior to working in geocomputation. Our actions have consequences, both positive and adverse, and this is something we should take into consideration in our day-to-day interactions. Our work always revolves around the three pillars of sustainability: people, profit, and planet.  

When thinking about computer science, what specific background knowledge and conceptual ideas do you think are important and useful to know? 

I recommend starting with the basics like: What are hard drives? What are the different types of hard drives and what do they do? What is the central processing unit of a computer? What’s a good one or a bad one? How much memory does the computer or device have?   

Then, you need to understand different types of software. Think about your needs and what software can meet the questions posed by your research. From there, you have to learn how to use the software. What file type does the software use? How are these files opened in the software? How are they saved on your computer?   

When I started GIS, I went to buy a laptop and I thought, “Okay, I need something that can handle the amount of data I’m going to be running and the strain I’m going to be putting on my computer.” I had to look at things like core memory and plan accordingly, because there are times that your computer will be overworked.  

What procedural knowledge is important to know, from either geography or computer science, in your work? 

It is important to know how to isolate your question, so things like the scientific method can be helpful. You don’t need to follow it exactly, but it can help you identify methodology to solve the question. What information do I need to solve this problem? Does this information exist in the format I need and, if not, can I create this information or do I know someone that can assist me in gathering this information? 

From there, test your methodology. Be flexible because a lot of things aren’t going to work and you need a plan B, C, D, and so on. It’s very helpful to know people within your line of work so you can ask questions and be nudged along in the direction you need.  

Can you share a specific example of how you apply geography and computer science to analyze and solve problems related to important issues?  

Since March 2020, when the novel coronavirus entered the United States, the County of San Diego tried to get ahead of it. We had public health scares in the past, like the Hepatitis A outbreak, so we had a little bit of a framework. 

My office develops and maintains a publicly available web map application for locations with publicly funded hand washing stations and public restrooms targeted for use by individuals experiencing homelessness. The County of San Diego hoped to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by placing hand washing stations and portable restrooms in locations that have known homeless encampment sites.  

What kind of geographic questions did you ask and think about during this project?  

The Office of Business Intelligence did not have to decide where the washing stations would go, but we relied on spatial data about homeless encampments to show hotspots and clusters of people experiencing homelessness.  

Someone else using this data would say, “Let’s place a hand washing station on this street where there are a lot of people experiencing homelessness,” and from there, I would receive the name of the street that this hand washing station is on and other internal information, such as how long it will be serviced or problems with the station itself. I would then convert this tabular data into spatial data. Addresses are not spatial data because there are no latitude or longitude coordinates connected to them. These coordinates are necessary to perform geocomputation, otherwise, it’s just data on your computer.  

We ended up creating a public web map application. I published the data as a hosted feature service on ArcGIS Online and I update it every so often. I had to think about possible problems with sharing this data with a large audience. We didn’t know how many people from the public would be looking at this map and a lot of pings could cause the map to be slow or stop working. I had to think of these problems ahead of time because if this map were to go down then the public would ask questions.   

In doing this project, I had to understand the software I was working with and the data formats. I had to think about whether the public would have problems viewing the map, and whether the data was understandable and digestible to the audience.  

What types of data did you acquire to support your project? Please identify up to three data sets that you utilize the most. 

I frequently perform geocoding to assign latitude and longitude to an address using an address locator. An address locator consists of different road networks of polylines within an area. For example, SANDAG publishes a dataset called “roads_all” that contains road types, road names, and address ranges. The address locator matches the tabular address data to spatial data in the road network and then converts the tabular data into spatial data. 

Since we have so many geocoding requests, we work on building the best address locator to match with the most addresses in the least amount of time and with the highest accuracy. We use “roads_all” from SANDAG as well as a road network from ESRI. We also use TIGER/Line shapefiles from the US Census Bureau because sometimes people have mailing addresses outside of the County of San Diego. I combined these road network datasets to produce a composite address locator that I worked with daily for this project. I also used the point in time homeless count from the San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness as well as internal data sent by my coworkers in neighboring offices. 

What types of content, knowledge, and skills did you use to evaluate the project and analyze the data gathered for your project? 

Something I wasn’t prepared for was the amount of general skills, like Excel and Word, needed to perform day-to-day tasks. Communication is another huge part of my job, so I have to understand the needs of the project, the questions answered by the project, and how to provide deliverables to the customer. The customer could be one of my coworkers in an office or it can be the public. 

With the hand washing stations and portable restrooms web map, I needed to make sure that the data was always up to date and that the data could handle being updated frequently. I needed a huge understanding of ArcGIS Online and that suite of products. Another aspect was working with firewalls. I work in a secure network that the public cannot access, so I needed to get private data to the public and ensure that it met requirements to share with the public.   

More specific skills I used are geocoding, creating an address locator, creating web maps, and creating web applications. 

How did you apply geography and computer science to communicate the results of your project? Do you have a recent product or publication that you could share with us as an example? 

https://211sandiego.org/covid19/covid-19-information/ 

The web map of hand washing stations and portable restrooms is on 211 San Diego and contains hand washing station icons and portable restroom icons. Using this map, you can enter an address to see where the nearest hand washing station or portable restroom is. You can click on an icon and get additional pop-up information.   

To create this map, I had to use Excel, bring the Excel spreadsheet into ArcGIS Pro, geocode the data set with my composite address locator, create a feature class in my geodatabase, and publish it online for the public to view. Once published on ArcGIS Online, the data is stored in the cloud and is referred to as a hosted feature service. I had to ensure the sharing capabilities were correct so other people – like students – can bring this data into their own maps. Then, I had to make sure that there were no technical problems on the backend which would make the map stop working.  

When reflecting on your work, how does it align with your personal values and your community/civic interests? 

I used to be a customer of the County of San Diego and I used to receive CalFresh. I saw how the County of San Diego helped me, I see how it helps other people who are in that situation, and I know that some good is being done. That is rewarding to me. The things that I care about are making sure that people are able to live well and thrive, rather than just survive and get by. It’s nice to know that there is a group of people working to make sure that the basic needs of our community are met, and that resources are available. 

For me, public web maps are key because we can show the public that there are resources available. People don’t always know what’s available to them and we need to share the work that we’re doing and what the County of San Diego provides. I like working for an organization that is helping people and making sure that things are working as they should be. It makes me feel good — like harm reduction is occurring.   


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grants No. 2031418, 2031407, and 2031380 (Collaborative Research: Encoding Geography – Scaling up an RPP to achieve inclusive geocomputational education). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation 

 

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Rebecca Grover

Education: M.A. in Geography (San Diego State University) B.A. in Geography, English (University of Vermont)

The following profile was compiled by Brendan Vander Weil (Texas State University) for the Encoding Geography initiative. To learn more, visit: https://www.ncrge.org/encoding-geography/


Please describe your job, employer, and the primary tasks you perform in your position.  

I am self-employed as a GIS analyst and consultant. In this position, I perform a wide variety of tasks to solve analytical problems and provide GIS solutions to clients. Most recently, I provided GIS support for a renewable energy development company. In this role, I ran and maintained a customized tool to extract land that would be suitable for solar energy development. I also provided customized GIS analyses, including a process for displaying areas of neighboring landowners with large acreages of land for potential solar development outreach. I also spent much time searching for and compiling data, such as parcels and endangered species and maintaining a variety of geodatabases for running tools and processes.   

What geographic knowledge, such as terminology and concepts, is important and useful to know in your line of work?   

For a recent client, it was beneficial to know basic physical geography concepts such as the definition of a 100-year flood zone, and knowledge of other FEMA-related data and concepts. In addition, understanding how parcel data is assessed and attributed was important to know as well as basic knowledge of environmental geography, such as state-listed versus federally-listed endangered species.   

What conceptual geographic knowledge is important and useful to know?   

For one renewable energy client, there was a significant element of interconnection and the importance of place as it related to the natural environment. Many different factors – such as the location of land, any constraints on the land, ownership of neighboring land, and governance of land – contributed to identifying potential sites for developing solar energy. Both general knowledge of how location is important to this work, as well as knowledge of environmental considerations, were useful to know.   

What procedural geographic knowledge is important and use to know?  

Knowing GIS and spatial analysis methods was crucial to performing this work as a GIS Analyst. Also, understanding where to look for downloadable spatial data and managing and interpreting said data was key to this role. Having a solid grasp of geoprocessing methods and procedures was also essential, as well as quality-checking and analyzing the results.    

What areas of computer science are important and useful to know?  

Definitely basic computer programming — such as Python (which is used with GIS).   

Can you provide an example of a project where you apply geography and computer science to analyze and solve problems related to important issues? 

For my most recent client, we were constantly looking for new land on which to develop solar energy. Therefore, one of my most common tasks was to run and maintain a customized tool in GIS to extract this developable land – the first step in assessing where to build solar and promote the advancement of renewables.   

What types of geographic questions did you ask and think about in your project?  

Before running the tool, I needed to ensure that the databases that the tool would connect to and iterate through were in the right location with the right datasets. The first question was, are the databases ready, and is all my data there? Next, if there was an error with the tool, I had to discover where the issue was and ask myself whether it was a data issue, a server connection issue, or something else. And when the tool finished running, I needed to examine the output and ask myself if the results made sense – did the flood zone and wetland layers appear to show correctly? Did the developable land align in a sensical way and did not overlap with the constraints layers? Were any data layers missing?   

What types of data did you acquire to support your project?  

I acquired many types of data for my project, with the following being the most critical: 

  • DEM tiles from USGS 
  • 100-year flood zone FEMA data 
  • Wetlands data from FWS 

What types of knowledge and skills, both geographic and general, do you use to evaluate, process, and analyze the data you gather for your work? 

I used my prior knowledge of working with DEMs and the Spatial Analyst extension to effectively download and organize DEM tiles from the USGS site and analyze the resulting slope data. For the 100-year flood zone data from FEMA, I used geoprocessing skills such as extracting data by attribute and exporting data between databases to process and organize the data to be ready for use in the tool. I used similar techniques to prepare the wetlands data. To analyze the output of the tool, I used a variety of content knowledge/skills like interpreting aerial imagery, quality checking spatial and attribute data for accuracy, and problem-solving/error tracking if something did not look right.   

How did you apply geography to communicate the results of your project? Do you have a recent product or publication to share with us as an example?  

The output results of the tool were needed by the client in KMZ (Google Earth) format, so I used skills in spatial analysis and QA/QC to ensure the KMZ file was spatially accurate and displayed properly. If the output KMZ did not look right, I used GIS/spatial analysis skills to correct the data that was input into the tool, or manually alter the tool’s output layers in GIS and re-convert to KMZ.   

Reflecting on your work, how does it align with your aspirations from when you were a student?  

Being able to contribute to advancing the field of renewable energy by working with my most recent client was certainly a step in the right direction for me — ever since I was a student I have aspired to address important social and environmental issues. I hope to take on more clients with this goal in mind, particularly for social causes as I was more human geography focused when I was in graduate school.  


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grants No. 2031418, 2031407, and 2031380 (Collaborative Research: Encoding Geography – Scaling up an RPP to achieve inclusive geocomputational education). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation 

 

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